- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Gail Howard, a self-described lottery expert, says any number ending with a seven, zero, five, three or eight could be lucky. The Rev. Sister Faye, a professional spiritual adviser, says choosing a winner is all in the "aura." Everybody, it seems, has his or her own formula for picking numbers in tonight's record $325 million Big Game lottery.

All of them, according to mathematics experts, are equally bad when it comes to the Big Game odds one in 76 million.

There is no magic formula for picking winning numbers, said American University mathematics professor Hakbae Lee. In fact, no matter which numbers you pick, your chance of winning is just a hair's breadth above zero, Mr. Lee said.

But with $300 million-plus on the line, many lottery players look for an extra edge, whether that comes from the psychic hot line, kooky mathematical formulas or divine revelation.

Miss Howard, for example, contends there are patterns of numbers in winning lotteries. By studying the patterns, a player can improve the odds of winning, she said.

"I have been doing this stuff for a number of years," said Miss Howard, of White Plains, N.Y. She said she was among the nation's top commodities forecasters before she turned her prognosticating powers to lottery numbers.

The "scientific lottery system" that she developed in 1982 was used four years later by Leavelle Carter to win the $606,023 first prize in Washington, D.C.'s first lottery.

Ten days later, Sherry Jaynes followed Miss Howard's system and won $13,333,333 in New York's lottery. Miss Howard missed winning that lottery by one number.

Luck is involved, she says, but following a pattern improves chances of picking the right numbers.

According to her charts, the most probable winning numbers tonight will have ending digits of seven, zero, five, three and eight. The last number, the so-called Big Money Ball, is likely to end in the number six, with 16 most likely to pop up, according to patterns monitored by Miss Howard.

The psychics and palmists don't know about Miss Howard and her formulas, and they are skeptical.

"If I could do that, I would be a rich woman myself," said Angie Fink, operator of European Psychic in Woodbridge, Va. "God doesn't give us that gift."

Still, customers inevitably ask for winning numbers, said Ms. Fink, a psychic for 11 years.

Faye Stevens, 47, has been a spiritualist since she was 10 years old, but she admits ruefully that she gets no visions of winning numbers.

"If I knew what to do, I'd play it myself," said Mrs. Stevens from the Rev. Sister Faye Spiritual Adviser office at Randallstown, Md. "If that can be done, it could be done on the stock market."

Lotteries and stock markets are not like horse races, Mrs. Stevens said. "There is an aura about horses," like Fusaichi Pegasus, this year's Kentucky Derby winner. "There's no aura about numbers."

The drawing occurs tonight at 11 for number crunchers in the seven participating states Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan.

The biggest previous jackpot was the $295.7 million Powerball won nearly two years ago by 13 Westerville, Ohio, machinists, dubbed the "Lucky 13."

Big Game officials think more than one player may win tonight, which could split the pot. The biggest individual winner to date is Chilean immigrant Maria J. Grasso, who won $197 million from the Big Game 13 months ago.

Of course, even if the $325 million eludes capture again tonight, there will be other winners. Missing one number still can be profitable. For instance, 43 players were one number shy Saturday night, but they collected $150,000 each. Six of those winning tickets were purchased in Virginia.

Still, lottery officials warn about selling the house to buy tickets.

"It's like reaching into a pile of 76 million tickets and pulling out just one ticket," said Virginia Lottery Executive Director Penelope Kyle.

"Play it smart and play it sensible," Ms. Kyle said, urging players against splurging on excessive numbers of tickets.

But if sales continue to explode, the $325 million could be enlarged before tonight's drawing. Lottery officials will confer before noon to decide if the jackpot should be increased. Sales will be cut off at 10:45 p.m.

A winner can choose to take cash, which would be about $165 million after taxes are withheld, or $12.5 million annuities for 20 years.

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